In an eagerly awaited and hotly contested ruling, the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards today voted to allow the ordination of gays and lesbians as clergy and sanctioning recognizing their committed relationships, while not endorsing sanctification as marriage.
I’ve appended the official press release below. It may seem a little confusing: reflecting the pluralistic nature of our movement, conflicting opinions were approved by the Law Committee. One says saying it is OK to ordain gays and lesbians, and two say we should maintain the status quo. Individual rabbis are free to follow whichever they prefer in regards to whether they will personally perform a commitment ceremony for gays or lesbians. The movement’s seminaries are free to choose which opinion to follow, so it is not AUTOMATIC that the seminaries will now start admitting openly gay rabbinical or cantorial students. The seminaries now will have their own internal processes to decide what to do. My expectation is that the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles (my alma mater) will probably fairly quickly move to accept gay and lesbian students, and that the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York will eventually follow suit, although I expect it will be a slower process for them. Machon Schechter, the seminary in Israel, will NOT be ordaining gays and lesbians any time soon as this halachic decision has not been accepted by the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.
As this is a very important decision for the Conservative movement that will be getting a lot of press in the next few days, I will be speaking about it in a discussion-style format from the pulpit this Shabbat. For those interested in a more in-depth discussion, I will be speaking about the topic and the implications for the movement in greater detail at a S.O.A.P. meeting in January.
I fully support the decision to ordain gay clergy; at the same time I think it is appropriate that this has been a slow and difficult process for the movement, as this does represent a major change in our understanding of halacha (Jewish law) which should only happen after a great deal of debate and discussion.
Click on the post continuation to read the text of the press release.
Rabbinical Assembly Committee
On Jewish Law and Standards
Concludes Meeting On Issue of Homosexuality and Halakha
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Shira Dicker
New York, NY, (December 6, 2006) – The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly concluded its two-day meeting on the subject of Homosexuality and Halakhah, or Jewish Law, this morning. The discussions and teshuvot of the CJLS reflect a deeply shared commitment to halakhah, Jewish Law and the Torah principle of kvod habriot, the God-given dignity of all human beings.
The Rabbinical Assembly is the international professional association of Conservative rabbis. The CJLS is the central halakhic authority for the Conservative movement, which represents more than two million Jews worldwide.
The following statement was drafted at the conclusion of the meeting:
Founded in 1927, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards is empowered to deal with, and rule on, halakhic issues within the Conservative movement. The role of the CJLS is to issue rulings shaping the practice of the Conservative Jewish community. As such, it is an advisory, not a judiciary body. Parameters set by the committee guide all of the rabbis, synagogues and institutions of the Conservative movement, but within these bounds there are many variations of practice recognized as both legitimate and essential to the richness of Jewish life. As a result, there have been instances when two or more responsa, representing conflicting viewpoints, are validated by the committee. When that happens, the local rabbi determines which of the responsa to follow.
At the CJLS meetings, five specific teshuvot were extensively discussed in a spirit of collegiality and open-mindedness. Two teshuvot — one authored by Rabbi Joel Roth and the other authored by Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Daniel Nevins and Avram Reisner — obtained clear majority support. Rabbi Roth’s responsum “Homosexuality Revisited” reaffirmed the prior position, which denied ordination as clergy to active homosexuals and also prohibited same sex commitment ceremonies or marriage. In contrast, Rabbis Dorff, Nevins and Reisner, while retaining the Torah’s explicit prohibition, as understood by the rabbis banning male homosexual intercourse, argued in “Homosexuality, Human Dignity and Halakhah” for the full normalization of the status of gay and lesbian Jews. Under this ruling, gay and lesbian Jews may be ordained as clergy and their committed relationships may be recognized, although not as sanctified marriage.
A third teshuva accepted by the CJLS, written by Rabbi Leonard Levy, which upheld the traditional prohibitions, argued that homosexuality is not a unitary condition and urged the development of educational programs within the community to achieve understanding, compassion and dignity for gays and lesbians. There was also some support on the committee for a more comprehensive repeal of the prior ban against homosexual relationships. All authors of teshuvot shared a universal appreciation for the principle of kvod habriot and the welfare of gays and lesbians in our community.
During its deliberations the CJLS did not discuss – nor do any of the papers reflect – any determination regarding gay marriage.
The meeting of the past two days on the issue of homosexuality and halakhah reflects a wide diversity of ideas and opinions. These distinct and divergent opinions may be used by rabbis, synagogues, institutions and individual members of the Conservative movement as a guide in welcoming gays and lesbians in our movement.
The teshuvot may also serve to determine the extent to which gays and lesbians may be admitted into our seminaries and guide the clergy of our movement on the question of whether to initiate commitment ceremonies for gays and lesbians.
The CJLS is united in its concern for the unity of the Conservative movement worldwide. The diversity of opinions issued today reflects an essential strength of the Conservative movement – namely, its very pluralism. Indeed, a multiplicity of approaches to halakhah has been a key feature of the Conservative movement since its inception.
The CJLS is composed of 25 rabbis and 6 non-rabbinical members (who are non-voting) and who serve on a rotating basis for a period of at least 5 years. The Rabbinical Assembly, founded in 1901, is the international association of Conservative rabbis. The Rabbinical Assembly actively promotes the cause of Conservative Judaism, publishes learned texts, prayer books and works of Jewish interest, and administers the work of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards for the Conservative movement.